My best friend Sadie married the kindest, funniest, most thoughtful man. We always say she won the lottery with Evan! And while there are many things I admire about their relationship, what I find most interesting is their unique holiday traditions.
Evan’s mom’s side of the family is Jewish, so Sadie celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas every year. As you can imagine, their December is jam-packed with celebration, gift-giving, and delicious feasts.
A few years back, the two of them invited me to join them at Evan’s parents’ Hanukkah celebration. Naturally, I was delighted; Sadie had spoken highly of their Hanukkah celebrations for years and I’d always wanted to experience one. But as the festivities grew nearer, I realized I had no knowledge of Hanukkah etiquette—especially when it came to gift giving.
I really wanted to get the perfect Hanukkah gifts for Evan’s family members to show them how grateful I was for the invite, but I had no idea what was appropriate. So, I consulted the experts, and thanks to the fantastic advice I got from Evan and my other Jewish friends, my gifts were a hit with the family. If you are celebrating Hanukkah for the first time this year, I’m going to walk you through the Hanukkah gift giving etiquette do’s and don’ts I learned so you can feel confident that the gifts you bring are right for the occasion.
Hanukkah Gift Giving Etiquette Do’s
I was a lot more stressed about finding the perfect Hanukkah gifts than I needed to be. While there are certain things you want to stay away from (more on that in the next section), it’s important not to overthink the gifts too much. In fact, for many families, gifts aren’t as much a part of the celebration as they are for holidays like Christmas.
So, if it is your first time giving Hanukkah gifts, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Give small, thoughtful gifts: There’s no need to go overboard with pricey technology or diamond necklaces—especially if this is your first Hanukkah. Historically speaking, lavish gift giving isn’t a Hanukkah tradition, so don’t feel pressured to spend a lot of money. Gifts like books, clothes, gift certificates, and jewelry, are always appropriate, especially if they are personal and thoughtful. If you are stumped, browsing through a Hanukkah gift guide can be really helpful.
- Put a modern twist on tradition: One good tip I got when speaking with one of my Jewish friends was to use Hanukkah traditions as inspiration for gift ideas. She gave me the example of gifting a box of designer donuts to symbolize sufganiyah, a jelly-filled doughnut traditionally eaten during Hanukkah in Israel. I used this idea when I went to Evan’s Hanukkah celebration, and it was a huge hit! Just be sure you know how many guests there will be so you bring enough for everyone.
- Give fancy food items: Every year, Sadie gets a gigantic European chocolate bar for Hanukkah from her husband’s sister. I love the idea of gifting gourmet food items like chocolate, fancy jams and spreads, and special cooking oils (since oil is so important to this holiday). You could even put together a little gift basket full of interesting food items you think your giftee would enjoy. Make sure you don’t include anything that is traditionally thought of as a Christmas treat, though—fruitcake and gingerbread men are out!
- Ask about specific family gifting traditions: It’s important to remember that all families are different. Just as every family has their own unique Christmas traditions, every Jewish family has their own unique Hanukkah traditions. For instance, some families may not exchange gifts at all, while others give children gelt (chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil). Be sure to ask your hosts if there are any specific traditions you should know about. They’ll appreciate the fact that you are showing interest in and respect for their traditions.
The most important thing is that you do your due diligence before the celebration to find out what is and isn’t appropriate for the specific Hanukkah celebration you are attending. And remember, if you’ve never celebrated Hanukkah before, it’s okay to not know the specifics as long you’re making a genuine effort to learn what you need to know before the event.
Hanukkah Gift Giving Don’ts
Before attending my first Hanukkah celebration, I was really afraid I would make a big mistake and do something to offend Evan’s family. While he assured me that wouldn’t be the case (his family are as lovely as he is), he did give me some good pointers about things to avoid when it comes to Hanukkah gifting.
Here are some of the most important Hanukkah gifting don’ts to keep in mind:
- Avoid red and green gifts: While it is true that the stores are filled with all things Christmas colored this time of year, blue and white are the colors of Hanukkah, so any holiday-themed gifts should be in these colors. For example, if gifting cute, festive jammies is your thing, stay away from Christmasy colors and prints. Instead, be on the lookout for something white and blue or even totally neutral.
- Stay away from food items that aren’t kosher: Not all Jewish families eat only kosher food, so you’ll definitely want to find out about the specifics of their diet. If you are planning on gifting food, though, it’s a good idea to stay away from pork products and shellfish (not that you would wrap up a shrimp ring anyway), as many Jewish people don’t eat these foods.
- Don’t use Christmas wrapping paper: Just like you wouldn’t wrap a birthday gift in Christmas paper, you shouldn’t use Christmas wrapping paper for a Hanukkah gift. That’s right—no elf print, and once again, no red and green. Look for special Hanukkah gift wrap decorated with menorahs, the Star of David, or some simple white and blue wrap.
- Don’t give your Hanukkah gift on Christmas: It’s important to honor the eight days of Hanukkah and give your Hanukkah gifts during that window of time. Sadie told me she almost made this mistake when she first met her husband. They were celebrating Hanukkah with his family and Christmas with her family, so her parents planned to give her husband his Hanukkah gifts when they saw him on Christmas. While I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded, it’s important not to lump Hanukkah in with Christmas.
Perhaps the most important thing to be mindful of when celebrating Hanukkah for the first time is that Hanukkah is its own distinct holiday, and it deserves to be celebrated and honored as such. Because it falls on the calendar in the same month as Christmas, those of us who aren’t Jewish sometimes think of it as being a similar celebration, but it is, in fact, very different. So embrace the differences, learn the traditions, and enjoy the wonderful opportunity to experience something so special and sacred.
For more fantastic Hanukkah gift ideas, check out our Hanukkah Gift Guide or start an online gift exchange for a fun gift-giving game to play at your next party. You can also connect with Elfster on Facebook, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfster.